Tony Becca, Contributor
The Super Eights round of the ICC World Twenty20 tournament got under way on Thursday, and if the early matches are anything to go by, if the middle and the end can emulate the beginning, we are in for some exciting, unforgettable action.
In the first match on Thursday, Sri Lanka, the hosts and one of the favourites, after hopping to 80 without loss off 7.1 overs and chasing a victory target of 175 and reached 161 for three off 18.1 overs only to survive a tie before defeating New Zealand in the Super Over; and the West Indies, another of the favourites, after posting 103 without loss off 11 overs, setting England a target of 180, and picking up two wickets without conceding a run off the first three deliveries, held on to win by 15 runs.
On Friday, the first match saw Pakistan, after South Africa had scored 133 for six and after Pakistan had looked ready to be buried at 76 for seven, stepping out of the grave to win with two wickets and two deliveries to spare, and in the second match, Australia, not one of the favourites, mauled India, one of the favourites, with nine wickets and 5.1 overs to spare, thanks to Shane Watson, who smashed 72 off 42 deliveries, and David Warner, who slammed 63 not out off 41.
As exciting as those four matches were, however, the tournament, up to then, was a disappointment, and in many respects.
Twenty20 cricket is supposed to be one big party - three hours of bat-swinging, low-trajectory, and yorker-length bowling, of balls flying high and long, sometimes dropping harmlessly in spaces, and of chasing, leaping, and diving fielders, some of them taking catches which appeared destined to go for sixes, some of them, after gymnastic contortions, throwing balls back on to the field while off the field but in the air.
Twenty20 cricket is supposed to be instant cricket - with victories coming off the last ball, off the one before the last, or the one before that, by one, two, or three runs, and with a wicket or two to spare.
The World Twenty20 is supposed to be the party of parties, attracting huge crowds, including grandpas and grandmas, dads and moms, sons and daughters, probably even of grandsons and granddaughters to its excitement - to see batsmen losing their off stump, behind their legs, or their leg stump, before their legs, and to hear fielders appealing for everything all the time.
Twenty20 cricket is supposed to be something special: it is not supposed to be affected by rain, and a maiden over is supposed to be something reserved for the imagination.
It also cannot end in a draw, or in a tie.
The first round of the current ICC World Twenty20, however, was far from exciting, far from being something special.
There were, as expected, loads and loads of sixes, there were acrobatic catches, and there were suicidal run-outs. There were also hopeful and unbelievable appeals for leg before wicket.
Those were the exciting times.
With Sri Lanka defeating Zimbabwe by 82 runs in a 20-overs-a-side game, with Australia beating Ireland by seven wickets with four overs and five deliveries to spare, with India defeating Afghanistan by 23 runs, with South Africa beating Zimbabwe by 10 wickets with seven overs and two deliveries to spare, and with England defeating Afghanistan by 116 runs, however, there were too many one-sided games.
And it was not only the fault of the minnows, not with South Africa defeating Sri Lanka by 32 runs and not with India beating England, the defending champions, by 90 runs.
There were other things also which spoiled the party.
Rain and Twenty20 cricket do not go together, and because of rain, the Twenty20 tournament, up to the first round, was not exciting, and it was not exciting because, for example, a team like the West Indies, a team with a number of the most exciting batsmen in Twenty20 cricket, and a team considered the people's favourites, did not complete any of their two games and robbed the fans of some entertainment.
It is said that the shorter the game, the more competitive it should be, and the more exciting the game. This was not the case in this tournament. The strong was too strong, and the weak, obviously, was too weak.
It was also unfortunate to see the top-four teams, based on the result of the first round, being placed in one group in the Super 8 section.
May be, with all the teams so closely matched, it does not matter but it should not be, not in a world tournament where the placement of teams in the later rounds usually depends on their performance in the tournament.
According to the ICC, however, the seeding of the teams for the Super Eights was predetermined before the playing of the matches. That should be, however, not in a world tournament, and not because of the convenience of travel, accommodation, etcetera, etcetera.
The first round of the World Twenty20 was like a damp squid, and apart from the bowling of Ajantha Mendis of Sri Lanka, Harbhajan Singh of India, Jacques Kallis of South Africa, Saeed Ajmal of Pakistan, and Shapoor Zadran, the left-arm pacer from Afghanistan, and the batting of Brendan McCullum of New Zealand, Luke Wright of England, and Chris Gayle of the West Indies, the action is best forgotten.
Who will win the World Twenty20 now that it is down to business and the fun and disappointments are over?
Any number can play, and the only thing is sure, or looks pretty sure: the contest seems heading for a beautiful climax.
The batting of Mahela Jayawardene (44 off 26) and Tilakaratne Dilshan (76 53) of Pakistan, Johnson Charles (84 off 56) and Chris Gayle (58 off 35) of the West Indies, and Alex Hayles 68 off 51) and Eoin Morgan (71 not out 36) of England in the Super Eights on Thursday, of Umar Akmal (43 not out) and Umar Gul (32 off 17), and Watson and Warner on Friday suggest that there is a lot of excitement to come.